Maternal immune activation and role of placenta in the prenatal programming of neurodevelopmental disorders

Rebecca Woods, Jarred Lorusso, Jennifer Fletcher, Heidi ElTaher, Francesca Mcewan, Isabella Harris, Hager Kowash, Stephen D'Souza, Michael Harte, Reinmar Hager, Jocelyn Glazier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Maternal infection during pregnancy, leading to maternal immune activation (mIA) and cytokine release, increases the offspring risk of developing a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs), including schizophrenia. Animal models have provided evidence to support these mechanistic links, with placental inflammatory responses and dysregulation of placental function implicated. This leads to changes in fetal brain cytokine balance and altered epigenetic regulation of key neurodevelopmental pathways. The prenatal timing of such mIA-evoked changes, and the accompanying fetal developmental responses to an altered in utero environment, will determine the scope of the impacts on neurodevelopmental processes. Such dysregulation can impart enduring neuropathological changes, which manifest subsequently in the postnatal period as altered neurodevelopmental behaviours in the offspring. Hence, elucidation of the functional changes that occur at the molecular level in the placenta is vital in improving our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie the pathogenesis of NDDs. This has notable relevance to the recent Covid-19 pandemic, where inflammatory responses in the placenta to SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy and NDDs in early childhood have been reported. This review presents an integrated overview of these collective topics and describes the possible contribution of prenatal programming through placental effects as an underlying mechanism that links to NDD risk, underpinned by altered epigenetic regulation of neurodevelopmental pathways.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberNS20220064
Number of pages35
JournalNeuronal Signalling
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2023


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